WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today joined his colleagues, led by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI), in introducing bipartisan legislation to strengthen a 2008 inspector general (IG) protection law that has been routinely flouted by two successive administrations from both political parties. The Securing Inspector General Independence Act (S. 3994) is also cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), James Lankford (R-OK), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jon Tester (D-MT), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
“Inspectors general play a vital role in the health of our democracy by holding federal agencies accountable and ensuring proper oversight of taxpayer dollars,” Senator Romney said. “I appreciate Chairman Grassley’s leadership on this legislation, which is aimed at protecting and maintaining the independence of inspectors general.”
“The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard,” Senator Grassley said. “Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law. This bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the President decides to remove an IG and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees.”
“Inspectors General work tirelessly to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently,” Senator Peters said. “These watchdogs must be able to conduct their work independently and without the threat of political interference – yet recent attacks by President Trump threaten to undermine their ability to do their critical jobs. We must ensure that this, and future, administrations are not able to undercut the transparency and accountability that Inspectors General provide to the American people. I’m proud to help lead this important, bipartisan effort to shield these public servants from political interference and ensure they can continue to hold the federal government accountable to taxpayers.”
Though the Constitution establishes the President’s authority to manage executive branch employees, including the firing of IGs, the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act requires the president to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an IG to prevent politically-motivated terminations. However, less than a year after it was enacted, President Obama fired AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin without providing sufficient details as Congress had intended under the law, prompting Grassley and bipartisan members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to push for more answers. A court later ruled that the administration wasn’t required to provide additional reasons prior to removing an IG – a case cited by the Trump administration when it initially refused to provide the level of details Grassley and his colleagues requested following President Trump’s removal of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and State Department IG Steve Linick.
The Securing Inspector General Independence Act clarifies the 2008 law by requiring any administration to provide “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” prior to removing an IG. It also limits the use of administrative leave for IGs, including during the 30 days following the removal announcement. Both presidents Obama and Trump used administrative leave to effectively sideline IGs during the 30-day period. To ensure the independence of the IG community, the bill requires acting IGs to be selected from among senior-level employees within the watchdog community. To protect the integrity of investigations and audits during an IG transition, the bill requires regular training to IG employees on their whistleblower rights.
The bill is endorsed by the National Whistleblower Center, Government Accountability Project, and the Partnership for Public Service. The Council on Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency was consulted during the bill’s formation. Legislative text can be found here.